18 July 2011

Some Bitchin’ Sylvia Plath Book News

Edward Butscher's biography Sylvia Plath: Method & Madness is now available in Kindle book format.  It is also available through Amazon.co.uk.

In case you were struck, as I was, at the incessant repetition of the phrase "bitch goddess" in the text and wondered just how many times it was used...the mystery has been solved! It appears 40 times. 30 times as "the bitch goddess"; 3 as "her bitch goddess"; 2 as "imprisoned bitch goddess"; and 1 each as "emerging bitch goddess", "hidden bitch goddess", "raging bitch goddess", "combination bitch goddess", and "appellation bitch goddess." Phew, now I can get some sleep.


P.H.Davies said...

I've only read excerpts of Butscher's book - that was enough for me. Possibly one of the worst - right up there with Paul Alexander.

Peter K Steinberg said...

I'm with you on this one! I've read it and found it so tiresome. The advantage to the Kindle version is the searching; I won't have to re-read it again (though if I'm looking for anything about Assia Wevill or North Tawton or Richard Norton I have to remember to look them up by their fake names).


marie augustine. said...

LOL, funny calculation!
I haven't read that book. I've read the Wagner martin's book about sylvia Plath and The Silent Women, by J. Malcolm

Kristina Zimbakova said...

I haven't read anything from the book but this queer bitching by the author is hilarious; "combination bitch goddess" tops it all.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Marie Augustine, you're not really missing anything by not reading it...

Kristina, the context of that phrase is:

"The 'bitch,' of course, is a familiar enough figure—a discontented, tense, frequently brilliant woman goaded into fury by her repressed or distorted status in a male society; and the 'goddess' conveys the opposite image, a more creative one, though it too represents an extreme. As a combination, 'bitch goddess' has the additional advantage of a long metaphorical association—at least from the time of D. H. Lawrence—with fierce ambition and ruthless pursuit of success."

So, I don't really think in this context he's necessarily talking about Plath...the above appears in the "Preface" so I suppose he's preparing the reader not only for his reading of Plath's life, for foul language in general. The 70s were a dark time indeed.

The word bitch (and words in which it appears as the root, like bitchiness [2 times]) appears 55 times according to a search I just conducted... To my disappointment, bitchtastic wasn't in there...


Peter K Steinberg said...

Also, no bitch-slap, which would have been awesome and redeemed the book in some small way. I can imagine the sentence in which this would appear.... The 'Ariel' poems, written by Plath in her bitch-goddess avatar persona, not only reveal a certain snarky bitchiness of the writer and her predicament, but also serves to bitch-slap Ted Hughes and those who have brought out Plath's inner-bitch...

Just to conclude, there are no references to either biatch-goddess (this would be the Snoop-Dogg biography of Plath), bitchrific, or bitchitude either.


P.S. I am not drunk (yet).

Kristina Zimbakova said...

Thanks for the explanation, Peter. Anyway, the oxymoron 'bitch goddess' is 'a combination' that I think will forever puzzle me. I would have forgiven the author if he had been creative enough to use the fantastic 'bitchtastic' but unfortunately he didn't.

Anonymous said...


Perhaps even more depressing than the "bitchiness" of Edward Butscher's book (and wasn't it telling by the way that Ted Hughes confused the two and referred to Plath's psychologist as Beutscher rather than Beuscher) is the phenomenally bitchtastic Bitter Fame. So shocking how Plath is repeatedly referred to as "deadly", "neurotic", "enraged"
etc. by Anne Stevenson and Olwyn Hughes while TH is presented as her helpless victim.

What makes it even more distateful is that Plath is no longer here to speak for herself, making her something of a "sitting duck" for attacks by the mean-minded.


PS: Congratulations on PP4!

suki said...

Nonetheless, despite shortcomings, Butscher's biography has some very good scholarship when you consider how difficult it was in 1972-1975 to find a lot of work from Plath; there is a considerable amount that other scholars now take for granted : Assia Wevill, different versions of poems; plath and hughes working together...
there are shortcomings but it was unauuhtorised (has there been an authorised biography?).
It's an instructive book for its time

Peter K Steinberg said...

Hi Suki,

Bitter Fame was the authorized biography of Plath. And I agree that Butscher's book is somewhat remarkable given the time it was written.


suki said...

Sorry, I forgot,with the hoohaa over how much of the biography, Ted Hughes had 'written' and which parts were so disliked by different 'sides' at the time, that, yes, Hughes had authorised Bitter Fame.

Anonymous said...

Peter - you're hilarious! What a bitchin' blog-post!

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Really, the whole "Bitch Goddess" thing just proves Butscher is a classic male chauvinist. Woman must be put in a box, either as a bitch or as a sexual being (or in Plath's case, both). Would he ever repetitively call a man a "raging god," or something of that ilk? I doubt it.

panther said...

Julia, no, he wouldn't use a phrase like "raging god." Really, this kind of male chauvinism is so obvious ! And far from dead. How many times do we encounter the expression "X is one of Finland's best women poets" or some such ? If there were a genuine equivalent ("man poet") in the English language, that would be okay, but there isn't. The implication is "Well, she's good for a woman, but there are obviously better men doing this sort of thing." And I STILL come across "poetess." Horrendous.

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.